The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Give me strength…

😦

An old man in Penang, the half-English/half-Chinese Philip Hutton, is visited by a woman who once loved Endo-san, Hutton’s one-time friend, martial arts teacher and platonic lover. At her request, Hutton tells the woman the story of his friendship with Endo-san, back in the 1930s.

She must have regretted asking. I started this utterly tedious bore-fest on 25th May and by 9th June had made it through just 33%, with every word a penance – clearly I committed some horrible sin in a past life and am being forced to pay for it in this one by reading overlong plotless contemporary fiction. Perhaps a plot develops later – I understood the book was going to be about the Japanese invasion of Malaya during WW2 but there was still very little sign of this at the point I abandoned it, except for some clumsy foreshadowing usually based on fortune-tellers’ hints and warnings.

The younger version of Hutton has all the ingredients to be interesting, and yet isn’t. Mixed race in a society where this was rare and frowned upon, he is something of an outsider even in his own family. But then he meets, as if by accident, a middle-aged man who offers, out of the blue, to become his sensei – a teacher in martial arts and a kind of spiritual guru. Not thinking this in any way odd, Hutton within a few weeks is pretty much an expert both at fighting and at all the mental discipline that comes with it. Who knew it was all so easy? I always thought it took years to master these skills. I think I might spend the rest of June becoming a master of aikido myself. I’m sure it’ll come in handy.

Tan Twan Eng

Along the way we are bored to death by treated to endless descriptions of fights – all stylised, of course, not real ones. This comes amidst the even more endless descriptions of every physical object or bit of landscape we come across, not to mention the historical factlets which are presented as just that – like extracts from a guide book to Penang.

What can I say? This book was longlisted for the Booker in 2007 and has thousands of 5-star reviews on Goodreads, with only 123 1-stars. Make that 124. Clearly it must be me, but I’ve suffered enough. I regret that I’m so old-fashioned as to expect stories to contain an actual story, but so it goes. One day I too may be enlightened enough to be able to appreciate hundreds of pages of nothingness – once I’ve mastered Zen in July perhaps. I believe one of the skills of Zen is being able to empty one’s mind completely. This book has given me a head start…

* * * * *

*coughs embarrassedly* This was the second winner of the People’s Choice poll, and the second I’ve abandoned. It’s not you, though, People – it’s me! I’m sure I’ll love the next one… 😉

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62 thoughts on “The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

  1. Sorry you didn’t like this one. It’s a number of years since I read it, but I remember really liking it. The descriptions of the fights were probably my least favourite thing, but I remember appreciating the quality of the writing. Hope your next read is more positive. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • To be honest, I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t struggling so much with concentration at the moment – I certainly enjoyed his other book much more! Never mind – onwards and upwards… 🙂

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  2. So, let me guess…this isn’t going on your list of books to win this year’s FictionFan awards, right? Seriously, though, I’m sorry you disliked it so much. I do keep hearing great things about it, and I’d have loved it if you’d enjoyed it. The setting interested me, so I was hoping to put it on the wish list. But I know just what you mean about tedium… Sorry about the whole People’s Choice thing; we’ll try to do better next time. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha – at the dismal rate I’m going this year, the FictionFan awards are likely to be short! I suspect I might have enjoyed this one a bit more at a different time, but oh, I do get fed up when books take so long to actually get to the story. Next up on the People’s Choice – Elly Griffiths. That’s bound to be good, isn’t it? Isn’t it?? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You should tag all your 1 and 2 star reviews in one spot, as they are hilarious. My favorite is still the Moby Dick one, but this comes close. If I were you, I would return to Vintage Crime and the Victorians, at least you more or less know what you’re getting there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, yes, there’ll never be another Moby Dick, though I must admit Absalom! Absalom! came close. It always makes me laugh how much more people enjoy my grumpy impromptu rants than my carefully polished 5-star raves – there must be a lesson in that… 😉

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    • I hope you do! Up to the bit where I gave up there was far more about Malaya than Japan but that may have changed later in the book. But to be honest, I suspect I might have liked it more if I hadn’t been reading it at the worst of my slump…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I had high hopes for it too – it still sounds like the kind of book I should have loved! Haha, but I must admit there’s something quite satisfying about writing a brutal 1-star review and getting it off my chest… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I know — I’m supposed to be taking a break. But when I saw your post, complete with its one-star review, I knew I was in for a treat. And I wasn’t disappointed! Golly, it appears you *really* disliked this one, FF! Thanks for suffering through a portion of it so I won’t have to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha! Oh, you noticed that I really didn’t like it? And I thought I’d been so balanced and objective about it… 😉 Enjoy your break, Debbie, and then hurry back – you’ll be missed! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I haven’t read this, but I did read his second book, The Garden of Evening Mists which won the Man Asian Literary Prize and Walter Scott Prize, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. It was my local book group choice and most of the members loved it. But I didn’t – I gave it 2 stars. So I won’t be reading The Gift of Rain!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Believe it or not, I actually preferred The Garden of Evening Mists so you should definitely avoid this one! The Garden also drove me mad with its slowness but at least I was a bit more interested in the stuff about the making of the garden and the tattoos, whereas in this one all the aikido stuff just bored me completely. I don’t think he’ll be making my Favourite Authors list! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • If the book you’ve been give is The Garden of Evening Mists I should tell you I enjoyed it much more than this one. It’s slow too, but I found the background subject matter – making Japanese gardens and the meaning of tattooing – more interesting than the martial arts theme in this one. So don’t be put off! Remember all those glowing 5-star reviews… 😉

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  6. I sincerely hope, I didn’t vote for this one! Honestly, I might stop voting, I’ll just start to feel bad if I contribute to further literary suffering on your side. At least you can remove it from your TBR and never think about it again 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I did, years ago, and I enjoyed it. I don’t think I totally loved it and I do remember it being quite slow too, but I enjoyed the stuff about the garden and the tattoos more than the martial arts theme in this one. I certainly liked it well enough to make me buy this one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, oh yes, the perils of the overlong lit-fic! I still bear the emotional scars from the bird book! I feel I have to read a reasonable amount to justify a 1-star review, and some books just deserve to be 1-starred… 😉

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  7. This is so funny! You lifted my spirits – thank you for that! 😀 I have read Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, and I recall it being on the boring side out of the books that were shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012. Unsurprisingly, I don’t remember the story at all. I will stay the hell away from this one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I actually preferred The Garden of Evening Mists. It’s years since I read t but I seem to remember finding it very slow too, but I was more interested in the garden and the tattoos than in the martial arts in this one. I don’t think he’ll be going on my favourite authors’ list any time soon, though!

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  8. Oh dear! Guess I won’t pick this one up! Not that I’d been planning to, but I did like The Garden of Evening Mists quite a lot. I read it during a summer when I wasn’t in such a daily rush so had time and patience for stories that unfold slowly and are thick with description. Anyway, good for you for tossing The Gift of Rain. There are too many good books waiting to be read!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I enjoyed The Garden of Evening Mists too, so I’m not sure how much of my annoyance with this one was maybe down to my own mood. But I think I found the garden and tattoos stuff in The Garden considerably more interesting than the martial arts stuff in this one, so it may have been that…

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  9. I’m imagining a book on the shelves: FictionFan’s Witty One-star Wonders? What d’you think? A reasonable working title until you come up with one of your famously scathing one-liners? 🤔😂 I think authors may feel it a badge of honour to be featured…

    And yes, I DID vote for this one and I’m sorry we put you through such torture but my word, it was fun for the rest of us! 😂 Have some chocolate with my gratitude! 🍫

    Liked by 2 people

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